The Lost Lesson Plan: Stuff They Don’t Teach You In Ad School Part I

School can only prepare you for so much in advertising. Some things you just can’t teach, lessons better learned in the school of hard knocks. Since I graduated and entered the ad world, I’ve picked up on a lot of things they don’t tell you about in school, or things I wish I had known. Here are those observations.

1. The Creative Department Is Nothing Like Don Draper’s – Going into the creative side of advertising may seem like the most fun and glamorous choice. You stumble into work at 8:30 or 9 in the morning wearing jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt because you’re creative like that. Then you effortlessly spout out a few genius ideas with a Starbucks in one hand and an iPad in the other, clear a spot on your desk for your future ADDY awards, then spend the rest of the day tweeting and palling around with your fellow creatives, right?

Wrong. You come in on time, appropriately dressed, and you work hard. You have to. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you never stop working. The creative process is fickle. You can’t limit your thinking to Monday through Friday 8 to 5. And chances are you’ll have to weed through 100 ideas before finding one halfway worth presenting to your creative director. It’s a very rewarding and enjoyable career path indeed, but it’s not Mad Men.

2. Media Buying Is Totally Killer – You may be under the impression that media buying is the stuffy, quiet side of advertising, (“It’s something to do with numbers right?”), and it doesn’t offer the kind of glory that creative offers – couldn’t be farther from the truth.

First of all, elements of creativity definitely go into buying and planning. It would be hard to deliver higher GRPs on a smaller budget than the previous year without using a little creativity. Also, deciding on what mediums to place the advertising takes plenty of ingenuity.

Secondly, media buying is a HUGE part of an agency’s services. In school I didn’t realize how important it really is, not only to the agency but to the client. There is a substantial demand for media buying services too. We have 11 employees and three are media buyers.

Also, buyers get majorly brown-nosed by their media reps. I’m talking lunches, gift baskets, snacks galore (especially during the Holidays), sometimes even free vacations. Lucky for us, our media buyers share their bounty. Well, just the goodies. It’d be weird if I went to lunch with Carol and one of her media reps, chomping away as they discuss business. “(Smack Smack) Can you pass the ketchup?”

3. Your Time Card Is Always Watching – Before going into advertising I had no idea that there was this thing called a time card. It keeps track of the billable hours you spend working on projects so your agency can make money so YOU can get paid, but indirectly it’s kind of a babysitter that makes sure you’re not misbehaving.

Every single day, by minimum increments of 15 minutes, you have to record the projects you worked on (using job numbers) along with the specific task you were performing with that project (copywriting, research, etc.) known as a function code. Since I work on a lot of different projects, I am constantly updating my time card throughout the day. And in a way, this ensures that I stay on task. I’m pretty sure there’s not a function code for “Fartin’ around on YouTube.”

By no means did these revelations affect my attitude about going into advertising; in fact, they’ve probably enhanced it. But they contribute to what I think is one of the most important lessons of all, and that is that you should never have expectations or pre-conceived notions in advertising. Chances are you’ll be disappointed. If advertising is anything, it’s unpredictable, and that’s what makes it so exciting.

– Andrew